A season of triumphant highs ended with a heartbreaking low as the Eagle River hockey team skated off the ice Feb. 1 without the prize they coveted most: a state tournament berth.
"We were riding the wave at the end of the season, and that wave ended a little earlier than we hoped," said Eagle River coach Kirby Senden after his team fell 3-1 to East at the McDonald Center.
The upstart Wolves finished fifth in the Cook Inlet Conference and were fired up to make a run at their first state hockey tournament appearance in school history. But East goalie Justin Luiten made 20 saves and the Wolves failed to put together the kind of dynamic offense that had turned them into a team to be reckoned with.
"He's been a tough nut to crack," Senden said of Luiten.
East picked up the only goal of the first two periods with 3:59 left in the first on a strike from in front of the net by Tyler Ferrari, who took a perfect feed from the corner from Joe Reynolds to cleanly beat Wolves goalie Andrew Shortridge.
"We didn't pass the puck real well in the first," Senden said.
East clung to their narrow lead early in the third, when the T-Birds went up 2-0 on the strength of a Steven Butts tally with 10:48 to go.
Dominic Thompson gave the home fans something to cheer about at the 8:39 mark, when his one-timer finally cracked the Luiten code to give the Wolves some life. But with Shortridge on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, East's Alexander Jackstadt found the empty net and left the Wolves wondering what might have been.
Eagle River finished the season 10-10-1, the first time they've wound up with a .500 winning percentage.
Senden said he was disappointed for his team which loses eight seniors but said he was thrilled with the way the Wolves established themselves as a legitimate CIC team this season.
"The expectation has been raised," he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
East 3, Eagle River 1
East 1 0 2 3
Eagle River 0 0 1 1
First period 1. East- Ferrari (Reynolds), 11:01
Third period 2. East- Butts (un), 4:12; 3. ER- Thompson (un), 6:21; 4. East- Jackstadt (un), en, 14:53
Shots on goal: Eagle River 7-7-721, East 7-5-920. Saves: Eagle River- Shortridge 6-5-718, East- J. Luiten 7-7-620. Penalties: Eagle River 5 for 10, East 5 for 10.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, February 3, 2011.